Ranease Brown ’21 and Kaila Spearman ’21 connected immediately after meeting in eighth grade.
“When Kaila and I first met, we just clicked,” reflected Brown. Growing up, Brown consistently felt a strong tie to music: “Being raised in a church, I’ve always been surrounded by music. My grandparents have always been very musical, my aunts, my uncles, and it’s just all I’ve ever known. I mean, I say this a lot, but I think I learned how to sing before I could speak!” Brown’s interest in other artistic pursuits also enriched her relationship to music: “Because I’m an actor, once I put the music together with the acting, that’s really when I felt the most connected. I felt like my most authentic self, even just listening to music when I was younger. There’s just something about it that evokes more emotion for me than anything else.”
Although Spearman’s family isn’t as musically inclined, she embraces the aspects of her life that allow her to sing. She explained, “My grandma used to sing lullabies to me when I was a baby. I also grew up in the church. When I was in first grade, I joined the little children’s choir and sang my first solos. I was really shy, but I just really loved [singing].”
The duo started working together in eighth grade, when they performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often referred to as the Black National Anthem, during a Black History Month Assembly. They received a standing ovation from the student body, and have been performing together ever since. This year, they have performed in two virtual Assemblies - once with a rendition of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” by Simon & Garfunkel and again with a medley consisting of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and “A Change is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke.
Both artists have found support at Hopkins. Spearman said that Assistant Head of School John Roberts always “encourages us to perform.” Roberts is not the only faculty member that supports the duo. Director of Choral Music Erika Schroth has contributed to the artistic success of both Brown and Spearman. Brown says that she “owe[s] a lot of my music related training to Hopkins Drama Association (HDA) and Ms. Schroth, and the musicals. That was really when I had the most fun and it was a time I really felt like the most authentic Ranease I could be.” In a similar vein, Spearman said that Schroth has encouraged her to expand her musical horizons through Concert Choir and Triple Trio, one of Hopkins’ all-female a cappella groups.
Brown thinks that “Hopkins has done a great job with making sure that we know there are great opportunities for arts, and we know that there are outlets where we can find our place.” However, she said, “I have felt that if I wasn’t such an advocate for myself and for my art, that I probably would’ve been suffocated by my more academic, athletic, and STEM focused things.” Brown is an avid activist for the arts, and tries to bring light to all of the different art forms on the Hopkins campus.
The similarities between Brown and Spearman’s respective artistic processes facilitate their partnership. The biggest challenge of working together, Brown shares, is figuring out “the theme of the song.” When writing, they frequently ask each other questions such as “Is [the song] about relationships? Is it about romance? Is it about friendships?” They are currently working on an album with Alexis Chang ’21 for their Senior Project. The group collaborates on different components of music-making such as production, lyrics, and melodies. Spearman and Brown gravitate less toward the technical side of music, but identify it as a necessity: “In terms of the tech aspect, we have a handle on LogicPro, which is the [music production] software that we use. We’re able to expand our palette because we’re teaching ourselves how to work all this stuff and how to understand what chords sound good.”
Brown and Spearman drew inspiration for their upcoming album from their experiences in quarantine. Brown elaborated on how the album came to be: “The beginning of quarantine was exciting, when everyone was talking about getting two weeks off, but it just got really lonely. I was consumed in my thoughts. Because we’re artists, we can use this, where other people will have to find other ways to cope and navigate this.” She continued, “Alexis, Kaila, and I, we’re like ‘Dude, we can put this a song.’ We wanted to get a song that is able to, with the music, express how we felt with this past year. We wanted it to start off soft, because at first we were really happy, but then have it get really chaotic because we’re all up in your heads. Our biggest focus was figuring out how to do that with our music, which is a beautiful thing in my opinion.”
When asked if they had any advice for up-and-coming artists, they both offered their thoughts. For writers, Spearman draws on personal experience: “I write from my perspective the most. When I’m upset, I always write what I’m feeling in that moment and reflect on it later. I think it’s important for writers to capture moments like that. It’s important not to force it, though. Don’t feel like you have to write when you’re not feeling inspired.” Spearman urges prospective writers to think about the messages they wish to convey through their music, and how that affects their process. Brown, in a more general sense, offers advice for artists of all mediums, saying “If being passionate about something is what brings you happiness or what eases your mind, do that with the utmost respect to yourself and not the people around you. Surround yourself with the people that are going to support and uplift you.”
Brown and Spearman both plan to delve deeper into their musical studies while attending undergraduate school. Brown will attend the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music to study musical theater, and Spearman will attend the University of Miami to study Music Business and Entertainment Industries. As the pair prepares to start their futures, Brown stressed the importance of one overarching principle to a young person’s career: “Get to know yourself because you can get lost in how other people identify you.”